The age of uncertainty eventually passes. That’s what happened for me. No longer did I seek the approval of others. My pieces sold. My work, the outcome of my efforts, became more predictable the older I got in that I knew I could develop the idea to a working model. Even new designs ultimately sold and customers said when you make something let me know, I want to buy more of your work.
I look at a design in my mind’s eye, examine the perceptions, the conceptions, work out the joinery and such, each interconnecting part, and suddenly all comes together in a cohesive whole and I make. I make with the certainty confidence brings and I make with hand tools because the challenges are infinitely greater, slowed down, less mistaken. I’m high self-demand and not a perfectionist. Most perfectionists i know are just hard to be with, live with. Usually it’s a form of pride that’s difficult to be around. I don’t compete with others because I find that unrewarding at best. It usually emanates from those seeking constant approval. Usually its birthed in schools and such. “Look miss, look miss!”
I pit my body against the task I design and set myself. One man cuts a dovetail in two minutes, I cut the same in one and a half. Where’s the value in that? What’s proven? But when you design the piece that challenges you, pits your strengths against the demands of the task, there is something to that. The outcome is just as unknown. You create the limits and constraints, you read your wood, read your grains, choose your tools, adapt them, make them even, and then, as you make the piece, make the unique and special tool, present it to the wood, cut, rework, adapt, rework, sharpen. There’s the true challenge. A craftsman and a craftswoman meet the challenge and change the impossible to become reality. I often wake in the morning and before breakfast, choose something impossible to do, and after breakfast the thought into a reality. Just when I thought this can’t be done something triggered by demand makes it happen and it’s all in my mind at that moment and then I work out how it can be done.
I have from time to time slipped into a comfortable place. Comfort often surrounds us and things become, well, cushy. Ease has a way of lulling us not to take risks in our working and in our life. The risk averseness rarely produces much more than mundane things. A good income can do that. Confidence knowing how the outcome will be will do that too, so I guard against complacency and often ‘rock the boat’. Imagine if the man who wanted a sheet of wide wood had stopped those centuries ago there would be no marvellous plywood today. I rise each day with a new challenge and think through the steps it will take to create the piece with tools unsuited to the work and wood that seems untameable. Of course the power planer and the belt sander will tame it. That’s true, but there is no challenge in it that way. Can I do it with my hand tools? Then I think back to the pre-machine ages when the finest woodworking ever in humankind came from a handful of hand tools, the hand of a man, an ordinary man, and I find myself thinking, ‘This I can do. I just have to work out how!’
A piece of steel flat stock lies waiting on my workbench. I drill it. Cut out a piece with a hacksaw and shape it with a file. The handle emerges from square wood on the lathe and a ferrule from brass rod constrains all. A man and a woman designs a future possibility and thought becomes reality by the making of the tool. Entrepreneurialism thrives in the face of impossibilities and new technologies come as new enterprise unfolds. So it is with the working of wood and steel. A new future emerges from a threaded bolt heated red and hammered out between to masses of hardened steel. That’s what I love about craft and the art of work. It makes me think!